Just because you built it doesn't mean people will come. And just because you got press for it doesn't mean the people who came will stay. As the founder of PR startup JustReachOut.io, Dmitry Dragilev (@dragilev) knows these lessons well. With his website, Dmitry helps early stage founders not only get PR wins, but capitalize on the gains for the long term. In this episode, Dmitry shares his knowledge of the most important things to do (and avoid) in your quest for press as a startup founder.
JustReachOut.io – Dmitry's app for attracting and pitching journalists
SaaS PR Guide – Dmitry's strategy guide for PR for SaaS businesses
How to Write a Press Release – Dmitry's 7-step process for press releases
PR Outreach – Dmitry's guide for PR outreach
PR Hacks to Boost Coverage – Dmitry's 8 best hacks for bootsting media coverage
@dragilev – follow Dmitry on Twitter
What’s up everybody? This is Courtland from IndieHackers.com, and you’re listening to the Indie Hackers podcast. On this show, I talk to the founders of profitable internet businesses and I try to get a sense of what it’s like to be in their shoes.
How did they get to where they are today? How do they make decisions both at their companies and in their personal lives, and what, exactly, makes their businesses tick? And the goal here, as always, is so that the rest of us can learn from their examples and go on to build our own profitable internet businesses.
If you’ve been enjoying the show and you’d like an easy way to support it, you should leave a review on Apple Podcasts. I read pretty much all the reviews you guys leave over there, and it’s Probably the best way to help others discover the show. If you’re on a Mac, just open indiehackers.com/review and that will open Apple Podcasts on your computer.
In today’s episode, I sat down with Dmitry Dragilev of justreachout.io. Dmitry was on the show a few months back to talk about how he grew his PR business at $30,000.00 a month in revenue, working just five hours a day, 25 hours a week. It’s an inspiring story. I recommend you go listen to it.
But in this conversation, I wanted to take a different approach. Dmitry’s learned so much helping Indie Hackers on his platform get traffic to their websites and their businesses by pitching the press. I wanted to extract as much information from him as I possibly could about how the rest of us could go about doing the same thing.
How do you pitch the press? How do you send a cold email to a journalist and get them to read it? How do you come up with a story? And if all of this works out, how do you capitalize on the traffic that you get from being published in the press?
Dmitry has a lot of information to share on this subject and even if you aren’t a founder yourself, it’s educational and interesting to hear about how it all works. Enjoy the episode.
(end of intro)
What are some of the most successful PR campaigns you’ve seen? What does it look like if you do PR well?
One of the most successful ones, and I'm not going to go and talk about huge brands, because people who are listening to this, they don’t have a huge brand. They’re trying to get their brand well known.
A company out there called Fractal, and they do PR for many different brands, was a study that they ran for a mathematics, statistician firm. They essentially were trying to figure out, so it’s a little company, and all they do is they crunch numbers, how can they get PR?
It’s just a consulting firm. It’s so boring. What they did is they picked something very specific, which was, “Hey, we’re going to go out and in subways, we’re going to find, how dirty is a subway car.” It’s pretty funny.
They went in and they looked at the cleanliness index of different cities and their subways. They created a map of all that. And what they did is, they pitched the map to all the places that were mentioned on the study. So all the local press, Oregon and San Francisco and Arizona and all the press, they started picking it up.
I thought that was genius in a way, where we’re not going after - and I can tell you stories. We have a customer of ours who got on CNN by pure, pure luck. I don’t want to talk about those stories, because it’s literally luck of the draw. Nobody can learn anything from luck in PR. I've seen tons of these one-offs.
But what I'm talking about, this version of local study, they baked it out of nothing. They were like, “Well, all right. We’re going to go look at cleanliness of subway cars around different cities.” And what they did is they sent in people they hired in different cities. They didn’t fly themselves in any of them. They created a map, and then they pitched this map to all the local press.
We have another customer of ours who does the same thing with spam calls. You know, you guys get telemarketing calls all the time. They have an app that tracked what type of spam calls were going to which states and they published on their website each area code, how many different spam calls they get. Again, something harder to track but they crowdsource the data and use people to collect it for them, and then they went out to all the local press.
What I love about those examples is, it’s not one of these, “Let’s think of this crazy story and do a PR stunt, like Grasshopper.” Grasshopper is a company that allows you to have a voice over IP, a virtual voice box.
They did a thing where they sent chocolate-covered grasshoppers to a bunch of press, to a bunch of journalists. These journalists opened these up and they’re like, “Oh my gosh. That’s crazy.” And they covered them everywhere.
I don’t like stories like that. I don't like stories when somebody’s like, “Oh, I just pitched a local media outlet, and I got picked up on local Fox channel and that got picked up on CNN and now I'm a celebrity in PR,” because A, they’re one and done, and B, there’s nothing to learn too much from that. It’s hard to replicate those types of things.
But what’s easier to replicate is these local studies or the local pressing. If local press is starved for content usually, and we don’t think about them too much. So creating little data studies for local press is usually, in my mind, some of the cool ways to do so, to get press.
So what’s the result? Let’s say you run one of these local campaigns. You’re doing studies on how dirty the subway is and the local press is like, “Cool. We need a story like this. We need something like this to run for our viewers to watch or to read about.” What can you expect to get as a founder who put time into doing a study like that and pitching press?
As you start doing PR, you start to think, “All right. What is my ROI out of PR? Why do I want to do PR?” My study, in my case and whatever I tell people to think about this, I'm like, “It’s customers. It’s revenue and customers. How many people will we get to sign up?”
In both of the cases, when it’s a dirty subway study, the idea there was, “Hey, we want people who read the study and they want data and the numbers crunched about their firms, whatever they’re doing.” So we’re going to target publications that are interested in data and insights, that have readers from the same demographic that would eventually come in and convert.
And so you’d throw up some numbers, but you’d try and think, “All right. We’re a local shop in Oregon. Let’s say we get covered by Oregon Live. We get covered by these three other publications.
Let’s say we get on a local news station and we’ll get 500 people to come to our site, 300 people come to our site. Can we convert three of them, and how much money will we make from it?”
That’s how you want to start thinking about it, is not so much can I get press. It’s how are they going to convert into paying customers? So with the telemarketing case, the company ended up getting acquired.
They ended up getting so many downloads of their app, and it’s such a repetitive task of creating reports on telemarketing calls in different area codes and getting published over and over and over again, that it keeps feeding them more and more leads.
But I would try and sum up your effort in that fashion, where it’s like, “All right. I've done this much outreach. I've gotten this much press. I've got this much paying clients from that press,” and separate that out, that effort.
I think from where I sit, and I talked to a lot of brand new Indie Hackers who are just now getting into this, one of the biggest issues that they deal with is that they don’t know what challenges are in front of them. They can’t accurately identify what they should be worried about.
They spend a lot of time worrying about things that don’t matter that much. They spend a ton of time trying to figure out what their idea is going to be or how they’re going to build a product, and it’s not even on their radar that, even if you have a good idea and a good product, it’s hard to get people to find it because there’s so much competition. “If you build it, they will come,” doesn’t work. I think brand new founders don't understand that.
For a little bit more experienced founders, they’ve built lots of stuff, and they realize that it’s hard to get customers and users in the door, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they know how to do it. It doesn’t necessarily mean they have a good strategy for doing it.
We were talking about these stories. It’s clear that these companies have figured out a lot of this different stuff. They’ve realized that hey, just because you get a lot of people in the door doesn’t mean that they’re going to stay, or just because you get one big press hit doesn’t mean that you’re going to keep getting press hits.
From your perspective, what do you see are some of the bigger problems that founders have with getting PR? What are some of the things that are unintuitive? What are some of the things that should be on a founder's radar when they’re trying to figure out how to grow their company?
Ninety-nine percent of people who come to us and try to sign up for Just Reach Out don’t have a story. That’s the main reason why they don’t know what to do. You are building a tool. You have a side hustle. You’ve built something. You have an ebook.
A lot of them have a course, a blog, and they don't know how to pitch press. They can’t pitch press and tell them that they’re awesome, because nobody does that. They don’t have a study or an insight to do. They could create it, but they don’t know how to start. What would be successful?
That’s the biggest hurdle for people. I always say, figure out what journalists are asking for and start answering them. You can see my screen up here, and this has a bunch of questions from journalists asking about specific entrepreneurship questions.
I can pull up one of them, but it’s essentially that I put “entrepreneur” into a search, and I'm like, “What do journalists want to know from entrepreneurs now? What do you want to do?” I'm reading one. It says, “Hey, I'm looking for five things you need to know to succeed in the beauty industry as an entrepreneur.”
Well that’s very specific. If I'm in that industry, I know a bit about the beauty industry. I go ahead and answer this and I get featured in BuzzFeed, for example, if that’s a journalist from BuzzFeed that’s looking for this.
These queries, I call them, they come out on Twitter. They come out on newsletters, free newsletters like Haro. You can go on Twitter and type in #journorequest or #prrequest, and you’ll find all of them.
What you would want to do is you essentially answer them. Start recording. Like, “It seems to me that New York Times is always asking about productivity and entrepreneurs, or productivity and remote work. Maybe there’s a trend there so that maybe I should come up with something around that.”
But using these questions from journalists, whether they’re expired or current, to dial into what they want, and essentially become their assistant, that’s what I would do for most people listening to this I think, because most people don’t have that story bait. That’s what you want to do, to build relationships with journalists, to understand what they want, that kind of thing.
I think a lot of being a founder is an exercise in psychology, and really understanding what other people want. A default way that people go through life is they think, “What do I want? I want this. How do I get this thing?”
But if you’re a founder, you’ve got to flip it around. If you’re building a product, you have to think about, “What do my customers want?” You have to give them what they want, understand their perspective and what they need.
If you’re trying to get PR, what you’re saying is, you have to do the same thing with the press. You can’t think about the fact that, “Hey, I just want the traffic and press. I want a hit. Let me send you my product.” You have to think about what the journalists want to get their job done. How can they make that easier?
What you're saying is that journalists want is some sort of story. Not only do they want a story, but they need stories so bad they’re putting out requests in these newsletters and these websites, saying, “Hey, I need help putting together this story. If you’re an expert, respond to me. You can help me write the story and maybe I’ll include a link to your product.”
Is that the only way to come up with a story? Do you need to go and read what journalists are requesting, or is this something that you can magic up by yourself?
I would default to what they’re asking first, because most people - and I deal with people who don’t have experience in PR - because they don’t have experience in PR, whatever they dream up in their room there along with their team members or their cofounders is usually not a good fit for a journalist.
They need a little bit more education and priming to start looking at these questions, answering them, and seeing a little bit of a trend so they can use the questions to base their story from. A real life example of this is, we had a customer that came in. They find fraud in construction equipment loans.
Very boring topic, but it’s a consulting company that can analyze and tell you if, when you rent construction equipment, for builders and such, contractors, when they rent their equipment, if there’s been fraud involved. Very boring.
So they thought, between the three guys there, that they’re going to have the most kickass blog about construction equipment and finding fraud in it. Turns out most people who are contractors are not looking for blog articles about this stuff. What really worked, three magazines a lot of them gravitate to, publishing in these magazines is probably the best way, and there are a few podcasts.
So what they started doing is not building up their own blog or pitching fraud stories, but taking examples of previous fraud in any industry, not just construction, so going after financial and so forth, computer equipment, and debunking these and publishing them on other GIF publications.
They’ve been doing this for two years now. They’ve been one of our best customers in terms of ROI for them. But they did that by looking. They typed in “fraud” into our search. They found a lot of financial publications are interested in fraud that’s not financial fraud in terms of bank fraud, but physical goods fraud that people are doing in renting equipment.
So they’re like, “Oh, we have that parallel. Maybe we should start responding to these questions, queries from journalists.” They started doing so, got pulled in, and then these journalists are like, “Listen, you seem to know a lot about this fraud stuff. You only know construction stuff, but this applies to all these other verticals. Can you work with us?”
In terms of ROI and press, they ended up changing their direction a lot. So I would start there. I would really start there. Don't try to make up your own stories. You can but use that to inform yourself.
It sounds like even if you want to make up your own stories, it’s much better to start by doing what you’re saying and reading all these journalists’ requests, because that gives you so much practice and insight as to what journalists want, and then maybe later, if you want to come up with your own story, now you know what journalists want. You’ve had experience. You’ve read all this stuff and you’re not operating from a place of no knowledge and no experience.
Yes. Exactly. You want to be informed. You want to read these and say, “Shafir from New York Times wants to know the best way to stay productive during the pandemic. She needs this by 8:00 a.m. in the next three days. I have one way, maybe I can let her know. Maybe she doesn’t use my tip, but at least I know she’s asking about it and she’s from the New York Times. Great for me to know that. Maybe I can use that in a future pitch. Maybe I can continue monitoring. Maybe more people are asking about that.”
I like talking to you about PR because one of the things that you always do is that you highlight the stories of people who have boring businesses. I'm like, “Hey, Dmitry, how do you PR?” And you go, “Well, this construction company is so boring, but they’re able to get PR. And there’s this other guy running this company, and no one wants to read about it, but he was able to get PR.”
What if you have an interesting company? How much time should you spend thinking about how to make a company interesting? An example that comes to mind is I talked to this friend of mine, Greg Isenberg who has this website, youprobablyneedahaircut.com. He was able to crush it with the press a few months ago.
Covid-19 is a trending topic, obviously. Everybody cares about it. Lots of people are complaining about the fact that they can't get their haircut because all the barber shops are closed. He sat down for a day or two and thought about, “What’s a good name for this? How do I tie this into current events and make it something that people are going to care about?”
I think he had an interesting business from the get-go. Do you think it’s important to try to make your business interesting, or do you think it doesn’t matter what you do, even if you’re boring you can get press and you shouldn’t think about it that way?
Plenty of people capitalized on what happened with COVID, first of all. We had a company that bought Flatten the Curve, that whole url, put up some regular data on there, how to do this and that. Their traffic skyrocketed. They got into ABC news and all these crazy publications and acquired the whole thing fast. DataShop is running it.
So there are plenty of people who see an opportunity. They build something to capitalize on it. They think it’s going to work really well in terms of PR, and it does. I'm all for testing stuff out, so before you even build something like that, I would send pitches out and see if people are going to respond to it.
If your friend, the haircut thing, before even sitting down for a day I would start sending out pitches saying, “Hey, are journalists going to be interested in the pitch around it?” And if I get some data back saying, “Hey, yeah, I want to see more about this. What is this? I want to see more about it.” You’re like, “All right. Maybe I should go build it.”
I think about it that way because I think of studies and insights and even blog posts, case studies or whatever before investing time into something like that, you want to know if people would be interested in it.
I would do what you’re most passionate about. I wouldn’t try and equate it with if it’s going to be successful in the PR. It’s where is your expertise and what are you most passionate about, and what do you get pleasure out of day after day after day?
If you were not going to make any money from it, would you still do it today? That's how I would judge about what you should sink your time into. I’d say boring business or not, you have a possibility of getting press. It’s figuring out how.
Something like your friend might be a little easier. It’s very topical. I don't know if he tested or not before he even launched the site, but a couple days’ worth of work is also fine. Don’t worry about it too much, about how the press is going to react to it. But if you’re able to make your passion a very topical term, then great.
Let’s talk about that idea of testing. This is so important if you’re an Indie Hacker. You don’t have a ton of money. You don’t have a ton of time. You don’t want to spend six months building something that no one’s going to care about.
I think traditionally the way that most Indie Hackers test stuff is they put up a landing page, a fake website before they build the product. They’re like, “Hey, let’s see how many people sign up for this. Let’s see how many emails I can collect.”
Then the post it on Product Hunt or they tweet it out or something, and if it doesn't get a good reception they’re like, “Okay. I’m not going to build this.” But I haven’t heard anyone do what you’re suggesting, which is pitch the press.
Send out emails to journalists and tell them about what you’re doing and ask if they’re interested in hearing more. What does that look like? What would you say? How would find the right journalist to pitch? If you don’t have anything built, how do you do this in an honest way?
I’m going to do the old school turnaround. This is a pitch from Brian Dean, which a lot of people have seen before, at least his blog. But if you can see, it says, “Hey, I just read your story on the health benefits of the keto diet. I've got a good one for you, a new survey of 2,000 keto followers that found 87% of keto dieters report that they cheat on the diet. Happy to provide more context and findings.”
So that’s interesting. This is essentially skeleton for a pitch I would do without any data. This is me just guessing something like that. If you wanted to, after you have the data you can add a little, “Thanks, Brian. P.S., if you want to quickly scan some of the key findings, here’s a link.”
This is if you actually have the data, but if you don’t you can take a stab and think, “Oh, 2000 keto followers that found 87% of keto followers cheat on the diet, I'm going to take a wild stab at it.” If they question it, I'm going to say, “I'm still gathering the data.”
The idea here is, “Hey, I want to test if this is going to be a cool article down the line.” So I'm going to take a wild stab and say, “Hey, I’m going to do a study. I'm going to say a majority of them, 87%, cheat on their diet and we’ll see if people bite.”
And if people bite I’ll be like, “Oh, let me compile the data and then I’ll let you know. And if that data’s a little different then okay. It’s a little different. If you don’t want to cover it, fine.” But at least I have validated that I got five responses saying, “I want to see data on this.”
So I’m like, “All right. If you want to see data on this, I'm going to run this little study. I’m going to create a little poll and I'm going to find people that are keto and promote it.” I’m a huge fan of doing that. Before investing any time into that haircut thing or this keto study, just send it out to journalists.
The worst thing that can happen is that nobody responds to you and you probably won’t do it. But that won’t cost you a day or two. It’ll cost you ten emails, five emails to journalists just to see. But if somebody responds, then it’s an exciting time.
When you get a response from a journalist, it’s awesome. It’s a good feeling. Whether it’s a negative or a positive, you’re like, “Somebody read my thing.” So I would do something like that.
Let’s dive into that a little bit more. Earlier we were talking about how you need a story for journalists. There are all these websites and newsletters, and there are tools, justreachout.io. You could easily find and search all the things that journalists are requesting help with for their stories.
If you’re trying to send out a little minimum viable product like this, a little survey you put together, some information to see if journalists bite and test your idea, should you go the same route of searching for things that journalists are asking for, or do you find some other way to compile a list of journalists to email with this information?
Two ways. I would put “keto” into the press opportunity search and I’ll put “keto” into the journalist search. The press opportunity search tells me what they asked about this term. The journalist search tells me what they’ve written about this term.
So I need to know one of two things. A, did they ask about keto in the last six months? B, did they write about keto in the last six months. So if one of those is true, then they’re probably the right person to chat with.
If they’re asking about keto, then they’re interested in it. If they’ve written about keto, chances are they might be interested in it again, depending upon what they’ve written about keto. If they’ve written about keto in the last three articles or four articles, then they are really interested in it, then my chances of getting a response is even higher.
So I want to be targeted, basically. I want to target the right people with my message. I don’t want to spam a list. That’s the number one mistake that most people do, is people think quantity. Even though I tell people quality and I teach people quality in my courses and in my software, people are still thinking quantity. How many can I email that can respond to this?
Loosely speaking, all these people are in the diet world, in fitness. They should be interested in keto. Not the case. If they didn’t cover keto in the last four or five articles, if they didn’t ask about it in the last six months, I don’t care if they covered it a year ago or they did one article seven months ago, or even if they did one article four months ago. They’re not the go-to person on keto. They’re not really, really interested in it.
So you want those data points to target. This way, most of our customers, they get 70% open rate and they get about 30 to 40% response rate on all their email pitches. They send quality over quantity. They’ll send 10 emails, 20 emails a week but most of those will get opens and close to half will get responses this way.
What are some tips for writing good emails? Besides targeting the journalist, is there a certain length of email you should be targeting? Is there certain thing you should open with? Should you be following up if people don’t respond?
Our software doesn’t let you send emails if they are not kosher based on our standards. But we have this check which pops up all the time. There are all these things that it checks for you, and then if something is wrong, it’s like, “Oop! Gotta fix the email.”
The subject line should be between 45 to 65 characters long. We don’t want to go too, too long. The subject line needs to be more of a headline of the article you want them to write. A good example is, “Seventy-five percent of toilet owners fix their own toilets,” something that pops and it’s like, “What? I need to know.”
So you’re essentially writing the headline for them. It needs to have some kind of informational gap for them to open the email. An example is, “Which states have the most handy homeowners?” It makes sense for them to open that up. So it’s like, study, which states, blah, blah, blah.
These are all study driven, so you don’t have to only do studies, but I'm saying your number one focus is that subject line. We harp on that in the tool and in the actual course. Subject line is your key to them opening that email, so when it arrives in that inbox, by design you’ve got to lure them in by that one subject line. You only have up to 65 characters usually, we recommend, to lure them in. That’s why it’s the most important part.
The next part is the pitch itself. It’s more of a teaser, around 200 words maximum. Short and sweet, no huge bios about what you do. The very first part of the pitch usually addresses something they wrote or something they asked about. The second part is what you have to say about what you’re doing that’s relevant to what they wrote or what they asked about, and to ask, “Do you want to hear more?” That’s the very first. You’ve got to gauge them.
Read it out loud to yourself before sending it, twice, then send it out. Do not send anything to journalists that you haven’t read out loud to yourself. But those are some tips. I can send them to you after, too, so people have them in a bullet list. We have a tool in our site that’s free that you start typing your pitch and it’ll start correcting you and it’ll start changing up all these suggestions for you.
I’ll put a link to that in the show notes. And I like the call to action at the end where it’s like, “Do you want to hear more, or are you interested in this?” where you’re not immediately asking, “Will you write an article about this?”
You’re going one step at a time, and you’re like let’s start a relationship, and if they are interested then we’ll get deeper into this relationship and I’ll have bigger asks in the follow up emails, but not immediately right off the bat.
No, totally. It’s like talking to a person. You never walk up them and try and ask them to cover you. It sounds off if you’re at a mixer or social mixer or something, so you’d never want to do it over email. For some reason, people think they want to.
There’s something about the internet. We all know how to deal with people in real life. Well maybe not all of us, but most people do. But the second you don’t see a person in front of you and you're sending an email or your tweeting at someone, suddenly people do all sorts of stuff they would never do in real life. They spam communities. They send impersonal spam emails with these huge asks, ask people for way too much of their time or their attention.
Crazy. I don't know why people do that. It’s hard, I guess, for people to visualize themselves standing in front of that person. I always do that.
It’s smart to have a check in your brain, to remember, “This is a real person. I have to treat them like a real person. They’re not just an email address.” We were talking earlier about these big lucky PR hits that people get.
In my experience taking to founders, that’s the thing that everyone’s chasing. Everybody wants to be at the top of Product Hunt. Everybody wants to be written about by Forbes. Everybody wants to get on a talk show or something where they’re going to get tons of traffic all at once.
I don't think it works out that well. It’s hard to do, and I think even if it does happen, often the results aren’t what you wanted. So a good post on Indie Hackers, as someone posted yesterday, it was Rob Fitz, the author of The Mom Test, he posted about how, in his first startup, he had this huge PR win where he got onto the Rachael Ray Show, which was the second biggest talk show in America at the time.
It was on prime time TV. The hosts were gushing about this product in front of seven million viewers, and their traffic to the website was crazy. Then of course you know what happens after that. A week later, their traffic is back to what it was. It was a flash in the pan. It didn’t matter at all that he got that huge push.
How do you avoid that as a founder? If you’re doing all this good stuff, if you're getting PR and it’s working, how do you avoid the problem where all your traffic’s probably going to go away if you haven’t done the right things to make sure that doesn't happen?
I always caution people to think that way. People come and are like, “I want tons of traffic so I can get tons of sales,” and I think well what can you do consistently to get sales over and over and over again and not just get tons of sales at once?
The second thing is going after big media. You want to be in the spotlight, and you don’t want to be in the spotlight. That’s the whole mistakes that people usually make. If you are on the homepage of TechCrunch or New York Times or something, or Forbes, you get tons of people flaming your site, but let’s think realistically.
How many people that are your ideal customer come to your site? It’s probably a small percentage, right? The rest of the people that come and check out your site and they give you questions and they’re clicking all over the place, it’s just noise. It’s noise you don’t want. They pollute your whole funnel, your metrics or whatever.
To go after that tiny percentage of a huge audience, there are better ways to do so with PR and content and not do this huge splash of let’s be on CNN. Because everybody and their mother watches CNN, so if you’re on CNN, only a sliver of those people will be interested in you, so it’s short-lived.
So I avoid those, and that’s why when you asked me, “Can you name some great PR stunts, big PR hits,” I'm not going to go into these crazy stories of people getting on these talk shows. It’s not worthwhile for anyone to listen to, to aspire to, to even think that way.
What you want to do is you want to go after the places where your audience is hanging out, and do it steadily, one at a time, and get those small bumps. You want to use PR to help you rank on Google organically.
As an example of something like this, say you’re a furniture design company, again, a very boring niche where you can’t create anything sexy. You might, some crazy desk or something, but it’s very hard to innovate. We have a couple customers in that space.
So you’re not going to go and try and pitch CNN for like, “Oh, we’re helping all these offices with free furniture.” You’re going to look at, “Where does my audience hang out? Well my audience is googling around “cheap stand up desk for my home office.’” They’re Googling around “how to construct my own cheap DIY desk.”
The idea is that you eventually want to rank for these key words, “alternative to sitting desk,” or something like that. You want to rank for these key words, because that’s where your audience is hanging out.
It might be that there’s only three people a month that come in from a page like that that you put up, but it’s three people that are very interested in your product and would buy. It warrants more daily, weekly compounding effect with that traffic constant than you getting on TechCrunch or something like that, or CNN.
Now, in order to rank for these key words, you do need to contribute and you need to get press mentions here in different publications, but the publications you go after are going to be in the furniture design space, maybe in Architectural Digest. Maybe you’re going to go after specific publications where it’s your industry, maybe even lower, smaller blogs in the design industry, in the interior design industry.
You’re going to go contribute to these publications. You’re going to be mentioning some of these pages you want to rank on Google for, and eventually you’re going to start ranking on Google. That’s how I built Just Reach Out, is I've never run ads. We do a little bit of partnerships, but we don’t do too much of it. It’s literally ranking for the term. You Google “media pitch.” I rank number one. You Google “PR outreach.” I rank number one.
They’re not huge terms. There are maybe a thousand people a month that would search for one of them, but we get people who convert over to a customer because they’re looking for the best media pitch to use or the best PR outreach tactic.
They’re very specific things, so when I do podcast interviews or I go on and write for other publications, I’ll always reference these resources that I've written, because I get links to them. They start ranking, and then month over month they pull in traffic from Google, and that’s how I built the business.
It’s not the PR hit. That PR hit will never continuously give you more and more and more leads. It’s like, how does that PR hit rank or link to your ranking pages and how does it help you rank over time from Google?
This is so smart and there’s so much good stuff here. I think the theme is, you’re always thinking one step ahead. You’re not just like, “Hey, I want to get a lot of traffic from this press hit,” and then you have no idea what comes next. You’re always asking what comes next.
If you realize that search engine optimization, ranking high in Google, is a good source of consistent traffic, if you're the number one Google result for some popular search term that corresponds with what you do, people are going to search that daily, weekly, monthly, and you’re going to get a lot of traffic indefinitely. PR isn’t the end goal. PR is one step you use to help you rank that page highly. I think that’s super smart and not a lot of founders think that way, especially if they’re early on.
One thing that you need to realize is that it doesn’t have to be that big of a popularity for the term. So it could be 70 searches a month. It could be a hundred searches a month. It doesn’t need to be thousands.
When you’re staring out, it’s very hard to go after these terms that are very popular. People listening to this are going to be like, “Oh, I want to be the best email marketing software. I want to rank for that.” No, don’t start out there.
Start out with “best alternatives for active campaign,” or something like that, where the person looking for that is very specific. They’re not satisfied with active campaign and you have something better, or something very specific. “Business email template for cold email outreach leads,” or something like that. In SEO we call it long tail.
I think that’s the other smart thing, which is that you're not trying to go big right from the beginning. You realize that it’s better to take it one step at a time, get the easy wins going, and then eventually build you way up to something big, or maybe you never do.
I think what’s cool about that is not only is it easier and it’s good for your morale as a founder. It sucks if you’re always trying to go for the biggest possible win and you never get there. You’re probably going to quit.
But if you have these easy, small wins where you can get one every week or two, then you feel pretty good about yourself. But also, I think if you have a brand new app or website you’re building and you’re not sure if people like it, and you’re not sure if people come en masse if they’re even going to stick around, you want to get small numbers of people into your app a week or two at a time, so you can test things and fix things and talk to your customers.
I think this is where a lot of people struggle. They’re zero or one. I either get to the top of TechCrunch or the top of Product Hunt or I don’t. This PR strategy seems like a good way to get some small wins in the door. Maybe you get featured on a small blog or a small local news station or something and you get a few hundred people to your app, and that’s a good way to test.
I'm much more of a small-wins type of a person. With thousands of people who have used our platform and are using it, and most of them, it’s a psychological game.
When they sign up, they want the homepage of the New York Times. We tell them no. They start going for it anyway. They fall down. You fall down pretty quick because most people won’t get there. As you fall down, you get so disappointed with yourself that you just stop all activity altogether.
You think you’re a failure because these journalists don’t see you as a success. Or you try and go volume and you try to hit up and spam everybody out there because you know what you’ve got is the best thing.
What I usually say is, getting two, three small wins, then getting two, three more and then two, three more, and then going after medium tier and then doing three, and three and three of medium tier and then trying to get to the higher tier, is where most people succeed. One step at a time to try and build up.
Respond and do a few podcast interviews. That makes you feel good. You get some confidence. You put that out on your site as some validation that, “Hey, I've been somewhere. I've done two or three interviews.”
Then maybe you go and you do a few more and a few more, and then eventually have maybe 16 of them there. Then you’re like, “Oh, well I've done 16 really tiny, small podcast interviews. Maybe I should go after a middle tier podcast.”
So you feel good by doing this, and you have more confidence in yourself. It moves you in the right direction. Because you get burned quick by these huge initiatives that don’t give you results right away.
People are very much last minute thinkers. If you and I have the best day of our lives today and then something really crappy happens toward the end of the day, you’re going to think of that day as just the worst. It’s usually not the case. You just were having a good day. Maybe you had a bad fight with somebody. But overall the day was pretty good, and if you went back to all the good things and the bad things but you only harp on that last bad thing that happened.
Same with PR. If you’re going to go and you're going to go after huge fish, throw in some smaller ones in there so you have some successes. So it’s like, “I didn't get TechCrunch, but I got on these three podcasts and it was awesome. It was fun.”
Yeah. I think you want practice, too. If you’re going to be on stage for something, let’s say you’ve learned how to sing and you’re going to be on a stage for singing, do you really want your first time on the stage to be in front of a national audience of millions of people? Probably not. You probably want some practice on smaller stages so when you get to the big time, you’re ready.
Do you want your product in front of everybody who visits the New York Times? Probably not. Probably there are a lot of bugs and issues and features you haven’t thought about. Maybe you can get some practice on smaller audiences first, then by the time you hit the prime time, it’s not going to be a waste or an embarrassment. It’s going to work, and people are going to like what you’ve built.
Totally. I screwed that up so many times myself.
We all have.
Getting on stuff that I wasn’t even supposed to be on and getting tons of promotions.
I see these stories all the time. Even I remember myself, some of the first startups I launched, we would get press. We didn’t even have an email capture form on our homepage or we hadn’t set up Google Analytics. Basic stuff that we would have figured out if we hadn’t gone for the gold right off the bat, which was in hindsight so dumb.
There’s a guy named James Sinka and he runs these sleep labs startups. He was on the New York Times and he got a ton and ton. It was a focus on him. He does something called dopamine fasting where you don’t engage with anybody and you don’t look at devices, and your dopamine levels go way down because your dopamine gets high whenever you’re looking at screens.
So he said something to a founder, saying, “Hey, I can’t talk to you right now. I’m at a big event. I'm dopamine fasting.” That founder tweeted it, and some New York Times reporter picked it up and he was like, “I want to fly across the country to interview you.” And he’s like, “What? That’s crazy. I just said that to somebody.”
So this New York Times writer did a whole day with them. They dopamine fasted together and the story was going to come out. He called me right before the story was coming out and he was like, “Dude, it’s going to come out in 24 hours. What should I do? I have a site, it has my contact info. What would I do?”
I'm like, “Well, first you want to capture people's emails. Second, you want to mention people that you want to get print, like Nir Eyal, maybe Tim Ferriss, maybe some other people in your space. You want to mention them in the interview so that when the interview’s live, you can ping them and be like, “Hey, Tim, I just mentioned you in this New York Times article interview,’” and so forth.
You want to make sure you have a recapture method so when people are visiting your site and they leave, you can run ads at them, or you target them. You want to put those pixels up. He was like, “Oh, okay, okay.” So he started putting some of that stuff up there.
Those are just some of the basics, after the fact and before the actual story comes out. But even before that, he hired some people to prep him on how to spend that day with the journalist. But he’s never had press before, so it was a huge learning curve.
Had he not gotten a lot of this help, probably missed out on most of that traffic, like that email capture thing or even pixeling everybody who’s coming to your site and making sure you can retarget them. People miss that all the time.
It comes back to this theme again of, think one step ahead. If something good happens to you, you’ve got to be preparing in advance for how you’re going to take that energy and use it to get some other great thing, in this case becoming friends with these influencers or people you look up to or building an email list or building a list of people you can retarget with ads, et cetera. What are some of the other things that you can do if you’re going to get a lot of press that you can take advantage of?
Well I think when you know that a story’s coming out, that’s probably one of the easiest, most privileged positions you can be at. So a lot of times, what I would do to prepare for it is to analyze how much of that press is noise versus signal.
The majority of it is going to be noise. It’s people reacting. They’re kind of interested, kind of not. So I'm going to think, “How can I qualify people on the email form intake on my site?” I'm definitely going to have something like book a demo, try out this thing. But on there, I'm going to ask maybe three, four or five questions.
Over the years, I've gotten very specific on the kind of customer I like to have at Just Reach Out. I want customers who have a content marketer on their team. I want customers who have gotten some press or at least have been on one podcast episode or something like that. Those are all indicators that they’re serious about content. They know what they’re doing. They have a live product out there. That’s another qualifier.
So on my book demo request I ask them those questions. If they say yes to all those three, then I’ll show them my calendar and I’ll let them book a time with me to do a demo call. But if they say no to either one of them, they’ll get a generic form. They’ll give me their contact information.
So I'm already thinking and prequalifying that traffic that comes my way to specific qualified leads, making sure that they’re self-qualifying as they’re coming to my site. It’s important to think that way, because a lot of times you're going to get a bunch of people come in.
Everybody’s going to fill out the contact form or whatever, and you’re never going to know who are the best leads, what do I do with them, and your best leads get lost in all the noise. It will take you a while to respond to somebody, to most of these people.
So I would make sure people are self-qualifying when they’re coming in. Then you can analyze and see. Maybe you can push more traffic to that page, to that article later on if it’s bringing in good leads.
We have a customer, a good friend of mine, Yesware. Yesware is a company that allows you to do a bunch of cold emailing and check your emails to see if they’ve been opened and all that stuff. When in the early days they were covered by Forbes, they got a bunch of leads and they converted these leads right away.
Sometimes your product doesn’t need a physical demo so you can point them to a pricing page and says, “Convert, convert, convert.” They got a bunch of people who converted off that one article. It was a well-positioned article. So they ran ads to that article. They ran it through Google’s Display Network. They ran it on Facebook.
The more ads they ran for that article, the more leads they got out of it. Eventually they ran so many ads that it became one of the best articles of the year in terms of number of likes and number of comments on it because they ran so many ads on it. Forbes featured it in top ten articles, and they got more press on it. But I always thing that way. It’s like the traffic coming in, how can I convert it the best? Will I be pushing traffic towards it later on? That kind of stuff.
Yeah, you’re thinking about the entire funnel. How do you do PR for Just Reach Out? The entire point of your business is you’re helping all of these Indie Hackers and smaller companies get affordable PR, which I think is a brilliant business model because anything where you’re helping other companies make more money, people are going to pay you for. How do you get attention? You're on this podcast. Is this your primary way of getting people to sign up for your product? What’s your PR strategy like?
Like I was mentioning, I rank for “how write a press release.” I'm number one. “Media pitch,” I'm number one. “PR outreach,” I'm number one. Email pitch I'm number one.
Different types of keywords that are relevant to my audience, I try and rank for on Google. The way I do that is by podcasts and guest posting in my blog. I write up an article about PR outreach. I make sure that it’s the best thing that I can bake up on my own here.
Then I go and I do a bunch of podcast appearances. I’ll go and contribute articles to different publications, Entrepreneur, Forbes. I've written over 1500 articles over the last 11 years. I've cataloged all of them on Criminally Prolific, my blog.
You try to make sure that you’re referencing your own writing and your guest articles if it makes sense. So I would put a lot of examples and template into my articles on my own site, on the Just Reach Out blog.
Whenever I write about it or whenever I talk about it, I bring up these examples. People link to them from different blogs and podcasts notes. Then eventually they start ranking and they start ranking for very specific terms in my industry such as how to do PR outreach, how to write a press release.
Then once I rank for them, then I start pulling in traffic. Something I didn’t mention on your other question is, when people read your articles, they’re not necessarily ready to convert. They’re interested in something before they buy something from you. They need to know you better.
So I have a lead magnet which most people understand. It’s a pdf of something that they can use. It’s pitch templates. How to pitch journalists. Whoever comes to my blog gets a little teaser saying, “Hey, do you want the pitch template?”
When they get and they sign up for the pitch template, only then do I say, “Hey, you’re going to get the pitch templates in a few minutes. I suggest you check out template number three in there. But if you want to kick it up a notch, if you really want to start doing PR outreach on a different level, sign up for a demo, and our team will help you streamline the whole process.”
So that’s where I try and see if they can self-qualify to a sale. So they might say, “All right. Well I'm all for these pitch templates but I don’t want a demo. I don’t have money for it,” or they start filling it out and they tell me that they’ve never been in the press. They don’t have a content marketer. I'm probably going to say, “Listen, you’re not the best fit, but do use the pitch templates. Do it on your own.”
So I try and make sure there’s a whole conversion mechanism there in terms of people finding me on Google and converting through. But I don’t do any big splashes. I'm never in TechCrunch. I'm not a featured guest on any big talk shows.
I've been on Mixergy podcast, but that’s my client. I've been on Entrepreneurs on Fire, which is a big podcast. But I try to avoid the big splash, homepage splash. A lot of our clients have been. I just don’t think it’s useful.
For me, I want to rank for those keywords. I just published an article on SaaS PR. My goal for the next three months is to try to rank number one for the term “SaaS PR.” So now I'm going to be doing a lot of interviews and doing a lot of guest writing to link to that piece, to promote it, so that that ranks number one on Google. That’s mainly how I do it.
What if I wanted to do PR for Indie Hackers? For example, I've got the podcast. There are so many cool episodes like this one, where I want as many people to listen to it as possible.
How would you approach something like that? Would I try to get the press to write about individual episodes and the stories shared there, or the podcast as a whole? Or is PR even a good way to promote a podcast?
I wouldn’t get journalists to write about it. I would try and do guest writing yourself about it. So I would go out on blogs, marketing blogs or it could be even company blogs. There are tons of companies out there looking for good content if they’re in the communication space, or even cold email space, sales blogs, whatever.
I would write guest articles that link back to your episodes. So make your episodes the best thing they can be. So under, say, our interview, put together a crazy resource list and an infographic of a process of how to do PR. Break down what we’ve just talked about.
A, get some keyword research. Figure out which keywords I want to rank for. B, write the article on my blog. C, do some guest posting and podcasts to promote the article on my blog. D, get my article to rank high. Break that down into a little step-by-step.
Have our interview on there. Have all the resources on there. Now it becomes a magnet for people to check out, learn something from and reference. Now you’re ready to go and write about it. So now you can go out to, I don't know, maybe you go to startups.com, or you go to some other marketing blog, marketingprofs.com.
You go and you say, “Listen, I have a great article about how to do PR on a shoestring based on this interview.” And you write it, and then you reference your interview on your site. You say, “Well, Dmitry talked about this one tactic at 20 minutes on the interview. I broke that down in my article.” So now this article isn’t on your site. You’re writing a guest article. You’re linking to the original piece where we have the interview, we have this posted.
And you’re doing that over and over and over again so that you're getting those links inbound to that piece of content on your site. You’re not going after too many. We have a case study Pipe Drive did with us. We did six articles, or five articles on other sites, blog posts.
They ranked number one for the term “sales management,” which is a huge term. It gets hundreds of thousands of searches a month. So you don’t need too many inbound links. You want it to be high quality. That’s how I’d do it.
Most founders listening to this podcast are, I would say, in the pretty early stages. They don’t have a ton of time. Maybe they’re working on the side of a full time job.
I think a lot of people lack confidence that certain things are going to work. They want to dip their toe in the water. They’re not sure if they want to go for the full checklist of all the things you’re laying out here, because it’s a lot of work.
If you’re trying to get started with PR, what are some of the smallest things that you can do to see if this is even the right channel for you, to get a little bit of success, a few wins under your belt before you dive into the full SEO, write articles, put together infographics and surveys and pitch everybody?
For me, I’d go on “press opportunities” filter and type in “entrepreneur”, which I just did. It’s like, “Five Things You Need to Know to Succeed in Remote Work Life. Forbes reporter needs it by second of August. “
As a person that doesn’t have Just Reach Out, I’d go to helpareporterout.com. Or I’d go to Twitter and type in #journorequest, journo as in journalist, or #prrequest and look for something that’s in my space.
I'm an Indie Hacker. I'm an entrepreneur. Type in entrepreneur #journalrequest in Twitter. You’ll see all these people popping up saying, “Hey, I want to chat with an entrepreneur. I'm a so-and-so reporter.” Some of them might be Forbes. Some of them might be a no-name blog that you don’t know.
But respond to them. Get them to feature you, correspond with you, and then see if you can get any traffic out of it or any business activity out of it. Start dipping your toes in the water that way. That takes you 20 minutes a day, maybe three times a week. That’s not a huge commitment. You have that time. And it’s nothing that’s going to change your work life. Twenty minutes a day, three times a week’s going to be fine.
You’ll get to live the process a little bit. It’s going to be cheap. You’re not going to spend any money on it. You’re going to start dipping your toes in the water. Then say you get one hit and you get featured somewhere or you get quoted somewhere. You don’t get too many people coming your way. You’re like, “Well maybe that blog wasn’t the right fit in terms of my audience, but it was cool that I got on there. Maybe I need to dial into who I have to go after now.”
So now you’re going to go after only an entrepreneurship blog or whatever, where your audience hangs out, but you’re going to use that as ammo now. Now, when you reach out, you’re going to say, “Hey, I was on this blog already. I was just there. Are you at all interested in having me on?”
Very cool. Well listen, Dmitry. You are obviously a PR expert. I've learned a lot just in this episode. But you're also an Indie Hacker yourself. You have a very successful business. We spoke earlier this year on an earlier episode that I suggest people go and listen to, because you’ve got such a cool working style.
You’re working five hours a day. After that you pull the plug and you’re back to your normal life. You’re profitable. You’re bootstrapped. What’s your general advice for an Indie Hacker who’s just starting out? What do you think they should know? What do you think they should avoid and take away from the lessons that you’ve learned?
I’d say avoid this mentality of “we need insane growth to prove who we are to the world,” and do what you’re passionate about. Stop chasing numbers and other successes that other people have in your industry or generally in life. Worry about you and what you can do.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t have goals or aspirations. It’s stop basing what you want to do on other stories or other success that people have had. Don’t Google success tips and try and learn from people who have made it in their life, because I know this for a fact. They’re not telling you the whole truth.
The most successful, most wealthy person in the world, I'm sure their relationship with their loved ones and their family is not the same as you with not as much money. There’s a lot more to learn to that success. What did they have to kill off to get to that success?
That person with 700 people who work for them that makes a multi-million dollar business in the same niche that you were in, you’re killing yourself saying, “Well I can't even get a hundred customers.” Put it all into perspective and see where you want to be.
That’s mainly what I say. Do what you’re passionate about. Don’t forget your family, your loved ones, your friends. And don’t forget that you get this life. You only get this time once. Spend your time as if it was time. Most of us don’t live that way, I feel like.
I interviewed Patrick Byrne from overstock.com. He’s the CEO. He was diagnosed with this rare disease. They told him he’s going to die in the next 12 months. Then something happened. They were able to cure it, and they said, “Well we’re going to extend it for another 12 months.”
So when he was younger, he learned to live his life that way, like “I only have 12 months to live, oh, 12 months to live.” So he now lives that way. This thing, they figured it out. He didn't die and he’s alive and well. But that mentality stuck with him.
If I was going to die in 12 months, what would I be doing? What would you be doing? You’re listening to this interview. You’re doing what you're doing, but how do you change your life? Try to live that way.
Don’t chase other people's dreams. Don’t chase some growth numbers because somebody said that you should have them. Don’t raise money because you think you need to scale because you’re not making enough of an imprint on the world. Just do what you’re passionate about. Help people out the best you can and do the best job you can. Live life to the fullest, I’d say, because you won’t get this time back.
Beautifully stated. I love all of that. So much of what you see on the internet and articles, it’s all a façade. It’s like Instagram. People are going to put their best foot forward. They’re going to show you all the glamourous, best parts of their lives and their stories.
That doesn’t mean that it’s fake. The good stuff really is good, but they’re not going to tell you all the sacrifices they had to make to get there. They’re not going to tell you about the hard parts. They’re not going to be putting up profiles of the way that their business ruined their family, as you mentioned.
I’m reading a biography on Warren Buffet. I love biographies, because they’re so long and they’re in-depth, and you do get to see both sides. You don't only see the glitzy, magazine profile of things that went well.
That guy, obviously very successful, but he was so obsessed with his work, his wife left him. She just left and moved away and he was totally blindsided by it and he didn't have a relationship with his kids. And he, to this day, has a lot of regrets about how myopic he was about that success. So I think you’re totally right.
That’s a big theme, man.
Yeah, it’s consistent.
Clayton Christensen wrote the book called Innovator’s Dilemma. He wrote another book called How Will You Measure Your Life? Clayton Christensen was in Harvard, and all of his class in the ‘70s or ‘80s, whenever he was graduating from there, they made it to the biggest, like heads of McKinsey Consulting and Bain & Company, Ernst & Young, some of the biggest firms in our lifetime.
These people were heads or very high up in these firms. Their most successful people. He was a somewhat successful author, and he went and talked to them. What’s their personal life? What are they doing? Most of them are on their fourth wife. They haven’t talked to most of their kids in years. Their kids don’t talk to them.
They have insane amounts of wealth but their relationships, their personal relationships, are spent. They’re done. They’re workaholics. They’re going crazy with working, working, working. I’ve read a lot of that stuff. I was fortunate to follow 37signals, those guys, early on, because they guided me to this thinking and lifestyle where it’s like, family first, man. Your personal life first, your personal aspirations and all that.
It’s interesting, because even those stories that seem pretty horrible aren’t even the worst. The worst ones are the ones that nobody writes about, where somebody spent all their time being a workaholic, trying super hard to build something huge, and then they didn’t succeed. They still sacrificed all their happiness and their personal time and their relationships.
I think the whole point of being an Indie Hacker is realizing that you don't have to do that. You can build a great life for yourself. You could be making millions of dollars a year and be super happy and only be working 30 hours a week. It’s possible. I've spoken with lots of people who’ve done it. Dmitry, appreciate the reminder and appreciate you coming on the show, as usual. Thanks a lot.
Awesome. Thanks for having me, and happy to help anybody out there.
Will you let us all know where we can find you, where we can find some of the resources you talked about, maybe get in touch?
Check out Just Reach Out and criminallyprolific.com. Criminallyprolific.com is my main blog where I personally share everything that I talk about. Just Reach Out is the tool that I run.
All right. Thanks again, Dmitry.
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